China Drafts a Law on Domestic Abuse

Photograph by Yvan Cohen/Getty Images

China’s government is seeking public input as it drafts a long overdue law to protect victims of domestic violence. In addition to shielding spouses from abusers, the law will address physical aggression against children and elders—all issues that are at once taboo and disturbingly common in modern China.

According to a 2011 study by the All China Women’s Federation, a quarter of women in China have been victims of some form of domestic violence. Yet for many years, spousal abuse was considered a private or family matter, making it difficult for victims to seek police intervention or professional counseling.

The problem of widespread domestic abuse first gained traction in Chinese news headlines in 2011 after Kim Lee, the American wife of a high-profile Chinese entrepreneur, posted photos of her badly bruised face on Weibo. She explained on the microblog that her husband, Li Yang, founder of the Crazy English language school, regularly hit her.

In 2013 the couple divorced, and Lee was awarded custody of their three children and 12 million yuan (nearly $2 million) in damages and compensation. Her decision to discuss the matter publicly helped ignite a national conversation.

According to Xinhua, the new “family abuse” law will require police to respond immediately to reports of domestic violence. It will also create mechanisms for victims to seek restraining orders against abusers. If a domestic violence case is heard in court, the draft law offers some guidance in sentencing, suggesting jail terms of up to seven years for serious offenders.

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